I just read this article on the SMH.  It’s not often that I get excited about an article on SMH (except maybe to cuss out their tabloidal focus, or their lack of research except for surfing the blogs and the wires).

But this article about the under-representation of women in movies got my interest.  

Geena Davis (Oscar-winning actress, brainiac, mother and Olympian) started to get interested in this issue when she had kids.  She crunched some numbers and found that:

“Typically there are three male characters for every one female character. If it’s a crowd scene, that ratio goes out to four or five males for every female. And 87 per cent of narrators are male.”

She started up an Institute to encourage movie makers to redress this shocking imbalance.  

In my much smaller way, I am writing a teens’ book with a female lead for the same reason.  I started writing it with a male lead – it was instinctive to do so, even though I am not a boy myself.  It was because almost all the heroes in all the books I had read growing up were blokes.  Frodo (bloke hobbit), Harry (bloke wizard), the annoying kid in the Stormbreaker series, and the list goes on.   So when I sat down to write my own fantsay/sci-fi/philosophical fiction for kids, it was like I didn’t even have a choice – a boy appeared on the page, fully-formed.

After one year and one draft, I decided that wasn’t OK with me.  I started again, writing with a girl in the lead.  The boy is still in it – he may even get a lead role, may even be equal protagonist.  But the girl is going to totally kick some ass.

For some time, I questioned if it were OK to make a decision like that – to purposely interrupt the “creative flow” to impose my own beliefs.  But darn it, if I didn’t do it with my own little book, when would I make such a conscious choice again?  Because that’s what it is – that’s what it has to be by story-tellers and film-makers everywhere if the balance is going to change – a conscious effort, a real choice.  

It’s not been easy coming up with a voice for this character. That’s probably just me and my own issues and writerly bothers.  But maybe that’s not all.  The boy character, like I said, practically fell on to the page, and I reckon that’s largely because I had ingested so many version of him over the years that he was just hanging out in my subconscious, waiting for me to put him together.  

So maybe, at least one of the reasons people don’t write more female leads is that there are so few, fictional role models for writers.  There are a lot more books out there now with girl-power in the mix.  But they are a small minority and some of them sound and act like a boy who is a girl in name only anyway.  Ellie, the girl in “Tomorrow when the war began” series is downright boy-ish.  Does a girl-hero in a classic, adventure hero’s journey have to be boy-ish to be a hero?

I hope not.  I hope she also doesn’t have to be uber girlish.  She can just be a girl, with a combination of traditionally male and female qualities (like most of us anyway), in a bad situation that she has to change.  Girls and boys can be equally brave.  Let’s hope the same can be said for writers.


If this topic interests you, you might find this article interesting (it has some handy academic references in it): Gender issues in children’s literature.